Friday, June 01, 2007

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll.

I read this book a few months back, but didn't post a review. Thanks to this article, I thought I should post my thoughts. First, I should say that in a sense, I agree with the overall thesis of the book. Evangelicals are mental slackers and this is not in accordance with how God wants us to use our minds. Mental discipline is as important as external moral discipline.

My criticism will begin with this sentence from his book:

"The third decade of the century also marked the emergence of a more self-conscious evangelicalism (at least in the North) when Baptist and Presbyterian defenders of traditional evangelical beliefs were marginalized by denominational inclusivists or were driven out altogether."

What Noll is referring to is the end of the long process in the 1920's when conservative Christians were evicted from seminaries and pulpits as the tide of modernism swept away everything. Preachers were treating the Bible as extended versions of Aesop's fables. Biology wasn't yet a science, but woe to the theologian who doubted Darwin! Theology was dominated by universalism and Christ as guru, but not Christ as the son of God. The flat earth theory was invented by Irving and professors proceeded to turn this into mandatory history readings for all school children. At best, sticking to your faith meant being marginalized. At worst, it meant being treated to a steady diet of condescension and scoffing. Of course, Christians are to give thanks for persecution, even if it is the verbal variety.

Is it any wonder that many Christians opted out of the intellectual life altogether? This historical context, however, is reduced to one sentence by Noll. Instead, his vitriol is hurled at the Christians who did not bow to the corrupt intellectuals. Certainly some sloppy fundamentalist teachers have taught things that are wrong and/or aren't helpful. Scholars latch onto this with glee. Realistically, where is the danger? Is it with those who are mental slackers, but trust the Bible simply? Or is with those who aren't mental slackers, but despise the Bible and will use any trick to shake someone's faith? Who should we warn Christians about?

Noll has done far more harm than good by publishing this book.

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